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THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 29, 2022 at 12:11 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

“It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

“For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise. 

“The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

“This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.”

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

Walter Scheidel - Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2012.jpg

Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Scheidel gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

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“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich….

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73 – 71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2022 at 12:31 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. And sometimes devastating for the candidate.

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

Joe Biden presidential portrait.jpg

Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

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“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden had talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he had also taken a moderate stance when it came to taxation.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

Instead, he proposed expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, took a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.Related image

Among the epochs it covered: The civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

Amazon.com: Robert Payne: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Robert Payne

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.”

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth. They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

THE MYSTERY OF INSPIRED LEADERSHIP: PART TWO (END)

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 27, 2022 at 12:12 am

They seem to come out of nowhere—people who have never had military training nor even any experience with violence. Yet they display an utter fearlessness and eloquence that inspires others to great deeds in the face of overwhelming danger.

For 13 days—from February 23 to March 6, 1836—about 200 frontiersmen defended a ruined mission in San Antonio, Texas, against an army of 2,000 Mexican soldiers.

Few of them had known each other before finding themselves besieged. None of them had had professional military training. Some had served in local militias or as irregulars fighting Indians under the command of frontier officers such as Andrew Jackson.

One of these was David Crockett, recently a Congressman from Tennessee. 

Since the vast majority of the garrison were volunteers, they could have deserted the fortress at any time.

Holding them in place was a former lawyer named William Barret Travis. Gifted with an eloquence beyond his 26 years, he gave purpose to their stand. 

William Travis — Badass of the Week

William Barret Travis (with sword) at the Alamo

As historian T.R. Fehrenbach writes in his monumental book, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans:

“From the Alamo, from his first message before the arrival of the Mexicans to his last, his words had the ring of prophecy. The Texas historian who stated publicly that few people would want to have a son serve under William Barret Travis had forgotten, in the comforts of long security, the reasons why men make war.”

When the final assault came before dawn on March 6, 1836, the roughly 200 defenders killed and wounded about 600 of their enemies—inflicting a casualty rate of 33% on the Mexican army.

Travis’ body was found near his cannon on the north wall.

The garrison’s sacrifice inspired Sam Houston’s ragtag army to fall on the Mexican army at San Jacinto on April 21. Slaughtering about 800 soldiers, the Texans captured Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna—and forced him to surrender control of Texas in return for his life.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky (January 25, 1978 – ) is a former attorney, actor and comedian who, as the sixth president of Ukraine, now leads his country in a life-or-death struggle against the aggressive Russia of Vladimir Putin.

After earning a law degree from the Kiev National Economic University, he pursued a career in comedy. He created his own production company, Kvartal 95, which produced films, cartoons, and TV shows. His comedy, Servant of the People, starred Zelensky as the president of Ukraine.  

Volodymyr Zelensky Official portrait.jpg

Volodymyr Zelensky

In 2019, he announced his candidacy for president of Ukraine. He opposed the corruption that had been rife under the country’s luxury-loving president, Victor Yanukovych.

(In 2014, Ukrainians had rioted in Kiev and evicted Yanukovych. And that didn’t sit well with his “sponsor”—Russian President Vladimir Putin.)

A second feature of Zelensky’s presidential campaign: He promised to resolve the Russia-sponsored separatist movement in Donbas and end Ukraine’s protracted conflict there with Russia.

Zelensky won election by a landslide, with 72% of the vote.

In 2021, his administration came under mounting pressure from Russia. On February 24, Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russia 'threatening Ukraine With Destruction', Kyiv Says | Conflict News - Newzpick

Ukraine vs. Russia

In the early hours of February 24, shortly before the start of the Russian invasion, Zelensky recorded an address to both Ukraine and Russia. As a Jew, he refuted Putin’s claims that there were Neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian government. 

And he appealed to Russians—in Russian—to pressure their leadership to prevent war.

During the assault by Russian troops on the capital of Kiev, the Biden administration urged Zelensky to evacuate to a safer location and offered to help him do so. Zelensky refused, saying: “The fight is here [in Kiev]; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

As CBS correspondent Scott Pelley put it: “The moment Zelensky told his people he refused to flee, they refused to fall.”

Russia expected Kiev to fall in three days. But 61 days after the invasion, Kiev still remains defiant—and in the hands of Ukrainians.

When he wasn’t broadcasting defiance at Russia and rousing Ukrainians to heroism, he was often visiting the battlefront.  

Interviewed on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Zelensky said: “I don’t want to make myself out to be a hero. I love my family. I want to live many more years, but choosing between running or being with my people, of course I’m ready to give my life for my country.”

Since the start of the invasion, he has reportedly been the target of more than a dozen assassination attempts.

Other world leaders have applauded his courage and leadership. Historian Andrew Roberts compared him to Winston Churchill. 

The Harvard Political Review said that Zelensky “has harnessed the power of social media to become history’s first truly online wartime leader, bypassing traditional gatekeepers as he uses the internet to reach out to the people.”

Zelensky sees Ukraine’s struggle as the opening round of Russia’s war against the West.

“Some are….saying, ‘We can’t defend Ukraine because there could be a nuclear war.’ I think that today, no one in this world can predict what Russia will do. If they invade further into our territory, then they will definitely move closer and closer to Europe. They will only become stronger and less predictable.”

THE MYSTERY OF INSPIRED LEADERSHIP: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 26, 2022 at 12:10 am

Joan of Arc.  William Barret Travis.  Volodymyr Zelensky.

The first two names long ago burned themselves into the pages of history. The third one is now doing the same.

They seem to come out of nowhere—people who have never had military training nor even any experience with violence. Yet they display an utter fearlessness and eloquence that inspires others to great deeds in the face of overwhelming danger.

  • Joan of Arc (c. 1412 – 30 May 1431) was an illiterate peasant girl who, in France’s darkest hour, became its greatest hero. 

In 1428, when she was about 17, Joan traveled to Vaucouleurs and asked for an armed escort to King Charles V11. She said that she had received visions from the archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine of Alexandra, instructing her to deliver France from English domination.

An image of a woman dressed in silver armor, holding a sword and a banner.

Joan of Arc

Her request was rejected twice, but eventually Robert de Baudricourt, the garrison commander, relented and gave her an escort to meet Charles at Chinon. She had never seen Charles, but even though he disguised himself among his courtiers, she instantly recognized him.

After their interview, Charles sent Joan at the head of a relief army to lift the siege of Orléans.

She had never wielded a lance or sword, or even ridden a war horse. She had never studied military strategy nor even seen a battlefield. Yet nine days after arriving at Orléans, she lifted the siege on May 8.

On May 4, her army attacked the outlying fortress of Saint Loup. She arrived just as the French soldiers were retreating after a failed attempt. Her sudden appearance roused the soldiers to cheer and launch another assault—which overwhelmed the fortress.

In June, Joan decisively defeated the English at the Battle of Patay. She then advanced on Reims,  entering the city on July 16. The next day, Charles was consecrated as the King of France in Reims Cathedral with Joan at his side.

These victories paved the way for the final French victory in the Hundred Years’ War at Castillon in 1453.

Joan never attributed her success to anyone but God. She referred to herself as “Joan the Maid” and demanded that her soldiers refrain from sexual activity. At her orders, prostitutes—the camp followers of both French and British armies—were driven out of her encampments.

She did not expect to live a long life—and warned that the French had only about a year to claim their victories before she died.

On May 23, 1430, while relieving the siege of Compiegne, she was captured by Burgundians troops and exchanged to the English. Tried for heresy, she was declared guilty and burned at the stake on May 30,1431. 

Only 19 when she died, she had, through her inspired leadership, restored the kingdom of France.

  • William Barret Travis (August 1, 1809 – March 6, 1836) was a South Carolina lawyer whose courage and eloquence inspired 200 Texans to hold back a Mexican army at the Alamo.

An early advocate of Texas’ independence from Mexico, Travis entered the newly-formed Texas army as a regular officer. Although he had no experience in battle, he burned for glory as a cavalryman. But he accepted the order of Governor Henry Smith to go to San Antonio and defend the Alamo from the approaching Mexicans.

William B. Travis by Wiley Martin.JPG

William Barret Travis

Arriving there, he found himself overshadowed by the popularity of co-commander James Bowie, the legendary knife fighter. But when Bowie collapsed with pneumonia on February 23, 1836—the first day of the siege—Travis took command.

According to historian T.R. Fehrenbach:

“The true measure of this man, with his soldier’s cap, his sword, his exalted ideas of honor, and his florid rhetoric, was that he captured these violent frontiersmen and bent them to his purpose.

“No competent Texas historian really believes Travis drew his line on the ground with his sword and invited his men to leave or stay. That was not Buck Travis’ style. He intended to keep his command on the walls regardless of what the men wanted. He was consciously guarding the ramparts of Texas.”

A sprawling complex of buildings with low walls sits in a shallow valley overlooked by rolling hills.

The siege of the Alamo

On February 23, 1836, Travis penned one of the most famous letters in early American history. Addressing it “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” he wrote: 

“I am besieged with a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna [the president and dictator of Mexico]….

“The enemy has demanded our surrender at discretion, otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword. I shall never surrender or retreat. Thus, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism, and everything dear to the American character, to come to my aid with all dispatch…

“If this call is neglected I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor and that of his country. VICTORY OR DEATH.” 

On March 3, Travis wrote his last letter, addressing it to the newly-declared Republic of Texas. “I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms….The victory will cost the enemy so dear it will be worse for him than a defeat.”

On March 6, 1836, his prophecy came true.

“DON’T EMBARRASS THE BUREAU–OR THE BUSINESS”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 25, 2022 at 12:10 am

J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, has been dead for almost 50 years. But his rule—“Don’t embarrass the Bureau”—is very much alive and well in corporate America.

In 1959, Hoover—against his will—declared war on the Mafia.

On November 14, 1957, 70 top Mafia leaders from across the country had gathered at the estate of a fellow gangster, Joseph Barbara, in Apalachin, a small village in upstate New York.

The presence of so many cars with out-of-state license plates converging on an isolated mansion caught the attention of Sergeant Edgar Crosswell of the New York State Police.

Crosswell assembled an army of state troopers, set up roadblocks, and swooped down on the estate.

The mobsters, panicked and fled—many into the surrounding woods. Even so, more than 60 underworld bosses were arrested and indicted following the raid.

Hoover had vigorously and vocally denied the existence of a nationwide Mafia. He had carefully kept the FBI well out of the war on organized crime. Several theories have been advanced as to why:

  1. Hoover feared that his agents—-long renowned for their incorruptibility—would fall prey to the bribes of well-heeled mobsters.
  2. Hoover feared that his allegedly homosexual relationship with his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson, would be exposed by the Mob. Rumors still persist that mobster Meyer Lansky came into possession of a compromising photo of Hoover and Tolson engaged in flagrante delicto.
  3. Hoover knew of the ties between moneyed mobsters and their political allies in Congress. And he feared losing the goodwill of his political allies—and ever-larger appropriations for the FBI.
  4. Hoover preferred flashy, easily-solved cases to those requiring huge investments of manpower and money.

Suddenly, however, ignoring the Mob was no longer possible.

J. Edgar Hoover

He set up a Top Hoodlum Program and encouraged his agents to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance (“bugging”) to make up for lost time and Intelligence.

But planting “bugs” demanded illegal trespass into mob hangouts.

Making this even more hazardous: Hoover imposed restrictions on these assignments that could destroy an agent’s professional and personal life.

William E. Roemer, Jr., assigned to the FBI’s Chicago field office, was one of the first agents to volunteer for such duty.

William Roemer | C-SPAN.org

William Roemer

In his memoirs, Man Against the Mob, published in 1989, Roemer laid out the dangers that went with such work:

  1. If confronted by police or mobsters, agents were to try to escape without being identified.
  2. If caught by police, agents were not to identify themselves as FBI employees.
  3. They were to carry no badges, credentials or guns—or anything else connecting themselves with the FBI.
  4. If they were arrested by police and the truth emerged about their FBI employment, the Bureau would claim they were “rogue agents” acting on their own.
  5. Such agents were not to refute the FBI’s portrayal of them as “rogues.”

As summed up by Roemer, Hoover’s greatest concern was always: ‘Do the job, by God, but don’t ever let anything happen that might embarrass the Bureau.”

In the business sector, Hoover’s rule still forcefully apples. Anyone who doubts this need only examine the public scandal involving Applebee’s International, Inc.

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Applebees Restaurant LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

On March 9, Wayne Pankratz, an executive with Apple Central, a Kansas City-based company that operates Applebee’s restaurants, sent an email to managers saying high gas prices could help them cut employees’ wages.

He noted that most Applebee’s employees live “paycheck to paycheck.” But instead of suggesting a pay raise, he advocated the opposite: 

“Any increase in gas price cuts into their disposable income. As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”

Because workers were no longer supported by government stimulus, desperate workers would be forced back into the workforce regardless of wages, giving the company the upper hand when it came to compensation.

Pankratz said competing restaurants had been raising wages to attract more workers, leaving Applebee’s struggling to keep up.

“We all saw businesses hiring team members at $18-$20 an hour. They will no longer be able to afford to do this,” the memo said. 

Pankratz predicted that the labor market was “about to turn in our favor.”

The memo was posted to an r/antiwork forum on Reddit and then picked up on social media. At that point, it took on a life of its own. 

Twitter users expressed outrage at the memo. Some said they would spend their money at other restaurants.

At least three managers quit their jobs at a Kansas Applebee’s over the memo, CBS News reported. 

Suddenly, it was Pankratz who was desperate for employment—he was fired.

In line with Hoover’s dictum of disavowing anyone who caused embarrassment for the organization, Kevin Carroll, Dine Brands’ chief operations officer for Applebee’s, rushed to repair the damage:

“This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s. We understand that the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market has placed the individual on leave.

“Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee’s family.”

JFK’S LOST LEGACY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 22, 2022 at 12:14 am

Fifty-eight years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that JFK left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmospheric testing—and poisoning—by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon—in 1969—Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war. From 1965 to 1973, the war angrily divided Americas as had no event since the Civil War.

But there was a fourth legacy—and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War. And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

On November 21, 2011, the 12 members of the “Super-Committee” of Congress, tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts in government spending, threw up their hands in defeat.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press-–and not for altruistic reasons. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.” Thus he excused his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

An August 20, 2019 story in Forbes noted that a Pew Research survey, conducted in July, had found that “the percentage of Republicans attributing a positive effect to higher education has steadily eroded from 58% (2010), 53% (2012), 54% (2015), 43% (2016), and 36% (2017).

“Among Republicans, 59% now say higher education has a negative effect on the U.S., compared to just 18% of Democrats.” 

When Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke announced his candidacy for President in 2020, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade attacked him for having a “huge library.” 

“As if it’s a big plus that he reads books,” scoffed Kilmeade.

In March, 2020, an NBC News poll found that only 30% of Republicans said that they would actually listen to the advice of doctors to stay away from large, crowded areas to avoid Coronavirus.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously chortled after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

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Donald Trump

And, that November, “the poorly educated” elected him President.

As President, he attacked the free press as “the enemy of America” for exposing his lies and criminality. He scorned legitimate mainstream news media while seeking guidance from ego-stroking Right-wing shills at Fox News—who often proved as ignorant as he was.

His senior adviser, Kelleyanne Conway, set the tone of his administration right at the outset. Asked why then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, Conway replied: 

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary—gave alternative facts.” 

Kellyanne Conway official portrait.jpg

Kelleyanne Conway

“Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods,” Chuck Todd, the moderator on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” properly responded.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences. Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Republicans attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resented his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.

It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2022 at 12:10 am

Next hero: Marie Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine (2016 – 2019). She had joined the Foreign Service in 1986, and served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005 – 2008) and Armenia (2008 – 2011).

In May 2019, on President Donald Trump’s orders, the State Department recalled Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine. She had earned respect from the national security community for her efforts to encourage Ukraine to tackle corruption.

But she had been criticized by Right-wing media outlets—notably Fox News Network-–and by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

Marie L. Yovanovitch.jpg

Marie Yovanovitch

CNN reported that Yovanovitch stopped Giuliani from interviewing witnesses in his search for politically damaging information against former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter, had had business dealings in Ukraine.

On October 11, 2019, she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). She did so in defiance of orders by the White House and State Department to not attend.

“She was a hero even before she hit the hearing room,” wrote Charles Pierce for Esquire magazine.

“She told them to stuff their directives, she would answer a congressional subpoena like a citizen is supposed to do. And she didn’t sneak in through the basement. She walked into the Capitol through the front doors, and she didn’t do so to fck around.”

Testifying for nearly 10 hours, Yovanovitch said that Trump had removed her from her post owing to “unfounded and false claims” and “a concerted campaign against me.”

She believed that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani, might have thought “that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

And she warned that the State Department was being “attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.”

Another victim on Trump’s hate-list was Chis Krebs.

During the 2016 Presidential race, Russian propaganda had played a major role in convincing millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump. Social media platforms—especially Facebook and Twitter—were flooded with genuinely fake news to sow discord among Americans and create a pathway for Trump’s election.

And where Internet trolls left off, Russian computer hackers took over.

Trump didn’t win a majority of the popular vote. But he got enough help from Russian President Vladimir Putin to triumph in the Electoral College.

So notorious was the role played by Russian trolls and hackers in winning Trump the 2016 election that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was determined to prevent a repetition in 2020.

And point man for this was Chris Krebs.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1977, Krebs had received a B.A. in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia in 1999, and a J.D. from the George Mason University School of Law in 2007.

Chris Krebs official photo.jpg

Chris Krebs

Krebs had served as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection, and later worked in the private sector as Director for Cybersecurity Policy for Microsoft.

Now he was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS.

In preparation for the 2020 Presidential election, Krebs launched a massive effort to counter lies spread by Russians—and Americans—on social media platforms. Among his duties:

  • Sharing Intelligence from agencies such as the CIA and National Security Agency with local officials about foreign efforts at election interference.
  • Ensuring that domestic voting equipment was secure.
  • Attacking domestic misinformation head-on.

As a result, Krebs was widely praised for revamping the department’s cybersecurity efforts and increasing coordination with state and local governments. 

By all accounts—except Trump’s—the November 3, 2020 election went very smoothly. 

As a result of the vast increase in election security, Trump not only failed to win the popular vote again but couldn’t get the help he expected from Putin. 

On November 17, Trump fired Chris Krebs. 

The reason: Krebs had not only countered Russian propaganda lies—he had dared to counter Trump’s as well. For example: He rejected Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud: There “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

In a November 17 story on the CNN website, CNN reporters Kaitlan Collins and Paul LeBlanc bluntly concluded:

“[Krebs’] dismissal underscores the lengths Trump is willing to go to punish those who don’t adopt his conspiratorial view of the election.

“Since CNN and other outlets called the race for President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has refused to accept the results, instead pushing baseless conspiracies that his second term is being stolen.”

Yet, by depriving Trump of Russian help, Krebs ensured a victory for democracy.

On January 6, the House and Senate counted the Electoral Votes—and pronounced Joseph Biden the winner—bringing an end to Trump’s reign of criminality and treason.

In his 1960 poem, “Conversation With an American Writer,” the Russian poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko spoke for those Russians who had maintained their integrity in the face of Stalinist terror:

“You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Republicans in the United States Senate and House of Representatives in the face of Trump terror.

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 20, 2022 at 12:10 am

Next up: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers.

Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich (September 25, 1906 – August 9, 1975)

Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky, the former military hero now falsely condemned and executed as a traitor by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1938, Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) also became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him.

Image result for images of Dmitri Shostakovich

Dimitri Shostakovich

“He had a large picture of Tukhachevsky in his room, and after the announcement that Tukhachevsky had been shot as a traitor to the homeland, Zhilayev did not take the picture down.

“I don’t know if I can explain how heroic a deed that was….As soon as the next poor soul was declared an enemy of the people, everyone destroyed in a panic everything connected with that person….

“And naturally, photographs flew into the fire first, because if someone informed on you, reported that you had a picture of an enemy of the people, it meant certain death.

“Zhilayev wasn’t afraid. When they came for him, Tukhachevsky’s prominently hung portrait amazed even the executioners.”

“What, it’s still up?” one of the secret police asked.

“The time will come,” Zhilayev replied, “when they’ll erect a monument to him.”

As, in fact, has happened. 

Meanwhile, Stalin has been universally condemned as one of history’s greatest tyrants.

Third hero—Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Graduating from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1992, he received his Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 2007.

From 2017 to 2018 he commanded the USS Blue Ridge. In November, 2019, he was given command of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

On March 24, 2020, reports circulated that three members of the crew had tested positive for COVID-19. The next day the number of stricken sailors increased to eight. A few days later, it was “dozens.” The sailors reportedly became ill at sea, two weeks after a port call at Danang, Vietnam.

The initial cases were airlifted to a military hospital. The Roosevelt was ordered to Guam. After the ship docked on March 27, 2020, all 5,000 aboard were ordered to be tested for the virus. But only about 100 stricken sailors were allowed to leave the ship. The rest remained on board.

On March 30, Crozier emailed a four-page internal letter to multiple Naval officials, pleading to have the majority of the crew evacuated and quarantined on shore. Given the crowded sleeping quarters and narrow passageways of the vessel, Crozier wrote that it was impossible to follow social distancing and quarantine procedures: 

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do. We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset—our Sailors….

“This is a necessary risk. Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

Brett E. Crozier (2).jpg

Brett Crozier

Crozier sent his letter via a non-secure, unclassified email to 20 to 30 recipients, as well as the captain’s immediate chain of command. He reportedly believed that his immediate supervisor would not allow him to send it.

And his superior later confirmed that he would not have allowed Crozier to send it.

On March 31, someone leaked the letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published it.

On April 1, the Navy ordered the aircraft carrier evacuated. A skeleton crew of 400 remained aboard to maintain the nuclear reactor, the fire-fighting equipment, and the ship’s galley. 

On April 2, Crozier was relieved of command by acting United States Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

By that time, about 114 crew members—out of a total of around 4,000—reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.  

As Crozier disembarked, sailors loudly saluted him with a standing ovation: “Cap-tain Cro-zier!”   

Modly claimed that Crozier’s letter “raised alarm bells unnecessarily. It undermines our efforts and the chain of command’s efforts to address this problem, and creates a panic and this perception that the Navy’s not on the job, that the government’s not on the job, and it’s just not true.”

Actually, the Trump administration had frittered away January and February, with President Donald Trump giving multiple—and misleading—press conferences. In these, he played down the dangers of COVID-19, saying that “we’re on top of it”—even as the virus spread across the country. 

“It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public’s forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, DC,” continued Modly. [Italics added] 

This was the United States Navy under Donald Trump—who threw “betrayal” and “treason” at anyone who dared reveal the truth about institutional crimes and failures.

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 19, 2022 at 12:17 am

…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
The conduct of weak men is very different. Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess. And this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them. And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Four heroes, three villains.

Two of the heroes are Russians; three are Americans.

The villains: One Russian (actually, Georgian); two American.

First up—in order of disappearance: Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (pronounced too-ka-chev-sky).

Tukhachevsky (February 4, 1893 – June 12, 1937) was a major Soviet military leader and theoretician from 1918 to 1937. 

He commanded the Soviet Western Front during the Russian-Polish War (1920-21) and served as Chief of Staff of the Red Army (1925-1928).

He fought to modernize Soviet armament, as well as develop airborne, aviation and mechanized forces.  Almost singlehandedly, he created the theory of deep operations for Soviet forces.

Tukhachevsky.png

Mikhail Tukhachevsky

All of these innovations would reap huge dividends when the Soviet Union faced the lethal fury of Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

In 1936, Tukhachevsky warned Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that Nazi Germany might attack without warning—and ignite a long and murderous war.

Stalin—the son of a Georgian cobbler—resented Tukhachevsky’s coming from a noble family. A monumental egomaniac, he also hated that Tukhachevesky’s fame rivaled his own.

Warned of the approaching German danger, Stalin shouted: “What are you trying to do—frighten Soviet authority?”

Joseph Stalin

The attack that Tukhachevsky warned against came five years later—on June 22, 1941, leaving at least 26 million Russians dead.

But Tukhachevsky wasn’t alive to command a defense.

The 1930s were a frightening and dangerous time to be alive in the Soviet Union. In 1934, Stalin, seeing imaginary enemies everywhere, ordered a series of purges that lasted right up to the German invasion.

An example of Stalin’s paranoia occurred one day while the dictator walked through the Kremlin corridors with Admiral Ivan Isakov. Officers of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) stood guard at every corner. 

“Every time I walk down the corridors,” said Stalin, “I think: Which one of them is it? If it’s this one, he will shoot me in the back. But if I turn the corner, the next one can shoot me in the face.”

In 1937-38, the Red Army fell prey to Stalin’s paranoia.

Its victims included:

  • Three of five marshals (five-star generals);
  • Thirteen of 15 army commanders (three- and four-star generals);
  • Fifty of 57 army corps commanders; and
  • One hundred fifty-four out of 186 division commanders.

And heading the list of those marked for death was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

Arrested on May 22, 1937, he was interrogated and tortured. As a result, he “confessed” to being a German agent plotting to overthrow Stalin and seize power. 

On his confession, which survives in the archives, his bloodstains can clearly be seen.

On June 11, 1937, the Soviet Supreme Court convened a special military tribunal to try Tukhachevsky and eight generals for treason.

It was a sham: The accused were denied defense attorneys, and could not appeal the verdict—-which was foregone: Death.

In a Russian version of poetic justice, five of the eight generals who served as Tukhachevsky’s judges were themselves later condemned and executed as traitors.

Within hours of the verdict, Tukhachevsky was summoned from his cell and shot once in the back of the head.

From 1937 until 1956, Tukhachevsky was officially declared a traitor and fifth-columnist.

Then, on February 25, 1957, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered his bombshell “Secret Speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In this, he denounced Stalin (who had died in 1953) as a ruthless tyrant responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women and children. He condemned Stalin for creating a “personality cult” around himself, and for so weakening the Red Army that Nazi Germany was able to easily overrun half of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1943.

On January 31, 1957, Tukhachevsky and his co-defendants were declared innocent of all charges and were “rehabilitated.”

Today, he is once again—rightly—considered a Russian hero and military genius. And Stalin is universally—and rightly—seen as a blood-stained tyrant.

Image result for Images of Statues to Mikhail Tukhachevsky

Mikhail Tukhachevsky appears on a 1963 Soviet Union postage stamp

Next hero: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev)

Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers. Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Zhilayev, a member of the Russian Academy of Art-Sciences, taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

In 1938, he, too, became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD secret police sent to arrest him. 

A DARK, UNSEEN ROOM

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 18, 2022 at 12:10 am

Adolf Hitler had a warning for the Indiana legislators who passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A warning they should have heeded—but didn’t.

It all started on June 22, 1941.

On that date, Hitler ordered his powerful Wehrmacht to invade the Soviet Union.

Less than two years earlier, in August, 1939, he had signed a “non-aggression” pact with his longtime arch-enemy, Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union.

Since then, his army had conquered Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France.

Adolf Hitler with his generals

Now, he believed, it was time to “settle accounts” with the Soviet Union.

Only there could Germany obtain the “living space” it “needed” for its expanding population.

So at 3 a.m. on June 22, 1941, Hitler once again launched an invasion.

At first, Hitler—no doubt like the Indiana legislators—felt giddy with excitement.

Turning to Alfred Jodl, his chief of operations for the Wehrmacht,  he said: “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

German soldiers marching through Russia

But soon afterward—almost as if he had just looked into the future and seen that he had none—he told an aide: “At the beginning of each campaign, one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room. One can never know what is hiding inside.”

That certainly proved true for Hitler.

Within four years, he was dead and the Red Army occupied Berlin.

And now the law of unintended consequences may be coming true for Indiana.

On March 26, 2015, its then-governor, Mike Pence, signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This allows any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

In short, a bakery that doesn’t want to make a cake to be used at a gay wedding or a restaurant that doesn’t want to serve lesbian patrons can legally refuse to do so.

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs.

Unofficially, its intent is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  And signed into law by a Republican governor.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence 

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Mike Pence said in a statement on the day he signed the bill.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Bill-signing ceremonies are usually highly public events. Governors—and presidents—normally want their constituents to see them creating new legislation.

Yet for all his praise for the bill, Pence signed it in a ceremony closed to the public and the press. The media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

It’s almost as if Pence sensed—like Hitler—that he was about to push open “a door into a dark, unseen room.” And this may well be the case.

Through that door has marched the First Church of Cannabis. 

The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

Its registration had been approved—and Levin was ecstatic: “Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL.

“Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL.

“Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

And Levin had a personal comment for the governor who had made it all possible:

“Dear Mikey Pence…

“DUDE!.. keep crapping all over the state.. and I will plant a seed of LOVE, UNDERSTANDING and COMPASSION in each pile you leave.. and it will grow into a big skunky cannabis tree. Crap away Mikey.. Crap Away…”

No doubt many Indiana legislators are furious that their effort to attack gays may have brought legal marijuana to their highly conservative state.

But worse may yet come.

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America.

And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have pushed upon that door “into a dark, unseen room.” 

What will happen when Indiana Muslims

  • Claim their right—guaranteed in Islamic religious law—to have as many as four wives?  
  • Demand a taxpayer-funded “halal” non-pork food shelf at free food pantries for the poor? (Exactly this happened among Somali refugees in Minnesota in 2015.)
  • Demand that police departments cancel counter-terrorism courses by claiming that their materials are anti-Muslim? (Exactly this happened to several police departments in Illinois.)

And when they cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the basis for their demands?  

Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy nightmare.

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